Know your rights with collection agencies
BY PHIL MULKINS World Action Line Editor
Thursday, June 10, 2010
6/10/10 at 5:35 AM
Dear Action Line: My kid and his daughter ran up a little hospital bill and ignored it until all was "turned over to collection." Now a collection agency is bugging them night and day, and at work. Can they do this legally, and is this the usual routine? — M.T., Tulsa.
With unemployment high over the last year, many states' attorneys general are seeing bill-paying difficulties that lead creditors to hire collection agencies, which pursue unpaid debts for a fee.
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued a consumer alert May 21 that his office is receiving increasing numbers of complaints about collection agencies violating state and federal laws that prohibit harassment and provide debtors with specific rights.
Statute of limitations: In Oklahoma, the statute of limitations on debts is spelled out in Title 12, Section 95(A)(1) of the state code. For information on the statute of limitations in other states, see
. Whatever you do, don't agree to pay anything on any Oklahoma debt over 5 years old. Doing so reconstitutes the debt contract. See the Feb. 24, 2008, Action Line column at
for a more detailed explanation.
Federal law: Falling behind on payments does not justify collection agencies threatening or harassing you. Collection agencies must know and follow the mandates of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Consumers should also know their rights under the law. See
for the Federal Trade Commission website's "Fair Debt Collection Practices Act links" page explaining it all.
Collector contacts: Many consumers are not aware that debt collectors may contact you in person, by mail, telephone, telegram or fax but may not contact you at inconvenient times or places — before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. — unless you've given them specific written permission. They may not contact you at work if the collector is aware your employer prohibits it.
Third party contact: If an attorney represents you on the debt, the collector must contact the attorney rather than you. A debt collector may not harass, oppress or abuse you or any third parties he contacts about you. Debt collectors may not lie or mislead anyone when collecting debts. Collectors may contact other people to procure your home address, phone numbers or work location but cannot indicate his or her employment with a collection agency or that a specific individual owes money.
Profane harassment: A collector cannot harass, oppress or abuse any contacted person, and is prohibited from using profane language or issuing violent threats. Specifically, they cannot swear, threaten harm or repeatedly call consumers without disclosing their identity. Implying a pending arrest over unpaid debts or publicizing the name of a debtor is prohibited.
Cease and desist: Written requests to stop a collection agency from contacting consumers at home or at work should be sent by "certified mail, return receipt requested" to verify the requests were received by the collector. Once such a letter is received, collection agencies may not contact you again except to inform you that the creditor intends to take specific actions, such as lawsuits, on an account. Before you pay anyone anything, seek validation of the debt the collector says you owe through your "debt validation right."
Submit Action Line questions by calling 699-8888 or by e-mailing email@example.com or by mailing them to Tulsa World Action Line, PO Box 1770, Tulsa, OK 74102-1770.